Virtual Co-Ed RS/PH: Missionary Work (Lesson 12)

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Welcome to the first ever Virtual Co-ed Relief Society/Priesthood Lesson (at MM anyway)!  Here’s why you should join the discussion:

  • Virtual – you can participate whether or not you actually attended church
  • Co-Ed – you can hear perspectives from both men & women
  • Spiritual + Intellectual – some would like more intellectual content at church; others would like more spiritual content at MM.  It’s like chocolate & peanut butter.
  • Non-LDS Perspective – we may hear non-LDS commenter viewpoints (welcome to all!)
  • Advance Lesson Prep – those who are teaching RS/PH may find some insights for their lessons.

The materials are taken from the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church:  Joseph Smith manual and my own head (no link provided).  Today is Lesson 12:  Proclaim Glad Tidings to All the World.  In keeping with the spirit of the site, I will select passages and questions (and add stuff) that aim to be a little more thought-provoking.

Introduction:  Much has been said on this site by commenters about the effectiveness of the missionary program.  So, if you were the boss of us all, what would you do to increase the effectiveness of our missionaries and the missionary program?

Then & Now: How does contemporary missionary work contrast with NT and early LDS missionary work?

“By this we learn that it behoved Christ to suffer, and to be crucified, and rise again on the third day, for the express purpose that repentance and remission of sins should be preached to all nations.  Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call’ [Acts 2:38–39].

By this we learn that the promise of the Holy Ghost is made unto as many as those to whom the doctrine of repentance was to be preached, which was unto all nations. … Therefore we believe in preaching the doctrine of repentance in all the world, both to old and young, rich and poor, bond and free.”  Joseph Smith, 1835.

Here are some of the features of missionary efforts described in NT & the early restored church with a contrast to our current program:

  • No purse or scrip (NT & early LDS).  Today:  missionaries pay a monthly sum that is equal across all regions of the world.  Local members are asked to provide support in the form of meals vs. relying upon the kindness of strangers.
  • No time limits, well until you get martyred anyway (NT, some early LDS – was very flexible in terms of length of time).  Today:  24 months for men, 18 months for women.
  • All males must go (NT not specified, early LDS for a time), regardless of age, marital or economic status.  Today:  Single males strongly encouraged to go; single females optional.
  • Teach by the spirit with little or no formal instruction or central leadership/no message control (NT initially – hey, they didn’t even have the NT!, and early LDS – although some missions were with the express purpose to refute anti-Mormon claims).  Today:  has recently been made much more flexible (down from 6 consecutive discussions, which was down from 52 consecutive weekly discussions).
  • No language instruction (NT – some gift of tongues & early LDS – occasional gift of tongues; studied some languages in School of the Prophets).  Today:  crash course in language; localized MTCs in regions.
  • Companionships (NT – mostly for training? & early LDS – often went out in companionships, but didn’t have to be together always).  Today:  you are never to be separate from your mission companion.  Or you burst into flames or one of you goes off after harlots or something.
  • No dress code (NT & early LDS – dressed like everyday people).  Today:  1950s business dress for men (lava-lavas in Polynesian cultures); women in skirts.  Shoes universally worn to a nub, regardless of time period.
  • Worthiness standards (NT not specified, early LDS pretty much sent everyone newly baptized male, with obviously mixed results).  Today:  recently raised the bar on worthiness/preparation standards.
  • Conflicts (NT – Paul was chased out of Ephesus for preaching against the silversmiths’ livelihood, early LDS – Parley P. Pratt started his sermon to the Shakers by decrying celibacy and got kicked out).  Today – some issues due to tactlessness, lack of cultural awareness, and some due to success and competing preaching.

Can you think of other ways in which the missionary program of today contrasts and compares to the missionary efforts of previous eras in the NT, early restored church, or even BOM?

How are missionaries today tied to missionaries of the past?  Has the missionary program improved or deteriorated from these earlier efforts?

Joseph Smith quotes on missionary work:

“We don’t ask any people to throw away any good they have got; we only ask them to come and get more. What if all the world should embrace this Gospel? They would then see eye to eye, and the blessings of God would be poured out upon the people, which is the desire of my whole soul.” (1843)

Is this approach emphasized today?  How or how not?

“The servants of God will not have gone over the nations of the Gentiles, with a warning voice, until the destroying angel will commence to waste the inhabitants of the earth, and as the prophet hath said, ‘It shall be a vexation to hear the report.’ [See Isaiah 28:19.] I speak thus because I feel for my fellow men; I do it in the name of the Lord, being moved upon by the Holy Spirit. Oh, that I could snatch them from the vortex of misery, into which I behold them plunging themselves, by their sins; that I might be enabled by the warning voice, to be an instrument of bringing them to unfeigned repentance, that they might have faith to stand in the evil day!” (1835)

Early LDS missionaries focused on the imminent second coming.  If this approach has changed, how and why?  Are missionaries called to warn or to invite or both?  How should missionaries manage this seeming dichotomy?

“Prejudice, with its attendant train of evil, is giving way before the force of truth, whose benign rays are penetrating the nations afar off. … The time was, when we were looked upon as deceivers, and that ‘Mormonism’ would soon pass away, come to naught, and be forgotten. But the time has gone by when it is looked upon as a transient matter, or a bubble on the wave, and it is now taking a deep hold in the hearts and affections of all those who are noble-minded enough to lay aside the prejudice of education, and investigate the subject with candor and honesty.” (1841)

The above statement was made in 1841 when there were only a few thousand members.  Today there are millions.  Do people still feel the church will fade away into obscurity?  Why or why not?

What is meant by the “prejudice of education”?  Does reason prejudice us against God’s way of learning?  If so, how?  Does that mean reason must be abandoned in man’s search for God?  Why or why not?

“May God enable us to perform our vows and covenants with each other, in all fidelity and righteousness before Him, that our influence may be felt among the nations of the earth, in mighty power, even to rend the kingdoms of darkness asunder, and triumph over priestcraft and spiritual wickedness in high places, and break in pieces all kingdoms that are opposed to the kingdom of Christ, and spread the light and truth of the everlasting Gospel from the rivers to the ends of the earth.” (1836, from meeting of FP and 12)

How can the mission program be made more effective and have more influence for good in the world while fulfilling the goal of spreading the gospel to the world?  In what ways is it flawed today?  What reforms would improve its effectiveness?  Suggested improvements (heard on this very site):

  • change the whole church (well, we have been called “DAMU-friendly”)
  • teach more history & culture to improve knowledge & respect
  • put knowledgeable people in church sites (especially older couples), not just “testifying” missionaries

What are the benefits to the missionary program as it runs today?  What are the drawbacks?  What other ideas do you have to increase the effectiveness of the missionay program?

Comments 10

  1. Missional nuance to prevail more than proselytizing/salesmanship intent. (For those readers unaware of the term “missional” in its ‘Christian-ese’ context, do a search under “missional Christianity” or “emerging church.”)

  2. Differentiate between missionary work inside the church and outside:
    For missionary work inside the church, research shows that 43% of LDS disaffiliates left due to unmet spiritual needs. Of former LDS surveyed, 58% switched to other faiths or practices (mostly Christian). Of those with no current religious preference, 36% continued to pray often or daily. Studies show that people leaving the church is rarely about being offended. What can we learn from those who have left (either officially or unofficially)?

    In the quest for new converts, there is no question that we need to get well beyond beating up members for not providing enough referrals and think more broadly as an institution. The following would go along way toward helping the church to be seen as an important part of the community (outside of Utah) and open up many missionary opportunities.
    • Community focused – affiliation with community agencies – We simply do not have the resources in many areas of the church that a social worker would have at his/her disposal. Those resources are sorely needed at times.
    • Open up all activities to the community (by advertising them and actively inviting community members)
    • Utilize the experience of everyone. Sometimes it seems that we give people callings where they are uncomfortable and or doing things they really don’t enjoy. A ward is a wide spectrum of abilities and talents. Allow peoples talents to shine, rather than giving people callings that are a really poor fit and drive them out of the church. This would require that leadership really knows who people are, what they do, hobbies, gifts, etc.
    • Church buildings should be centrally located to the community (as a visual reminder that we are here and an important part of the community) and open periodically during the day as a place of refuge and are designed in a family friendly way. I currently attend in a building that is out in the middle of nowhere. People scoff when I tell them how far I travel from my major metro area. It seems like a reminder of how we are viewed…out there on the fringe.
    • Church buildings should be utilized in such a way that members of the community periodically come to our building (classes, seminars, etc)
    • People should sit on committees where their talents and abilities are best used to make these things happen (the secret to actually getting things done is to put someone in charge of an area where he/she has a God given talent). For example, I am impressed that several other faiths have a parish nurse.
    • We have offerings that are of interest to our community members and infiltrate the community with information about those offerings: child development, healthcare, career, genealogy, cooking, financial planning, various support groups, etc. If we have a high quality offering in these areas, why wouldn’t people be infiltrating our buildings and interacting with us?
    • Get basketball hoops outside the building. As I have visited many of the most spiritual and renowned chapels in the USA and in Europe, I am struck with a sense of peace. One of the elements I notice is no distraction from the spiritual nature of the environment. What impact would a basketball court in the middle of the Cathedral of Notre Dame have on the feeling one gets there?
    • Dig into the scriptures at a much deeper level (as other faiths are). What would it be like to have some teaching materials prepared by those who spend their lives studying the scriptures in their original language and the culture of the period?
    • Have church members offer to sponsor activities in their community on holidays, rather than all members isolating themselves at the chapel. For example, my ward spends each 4th of July lighting their own fireworks at their chapel in the middle of nowhere. Not a nonmember in sight. Very insular.
    • Take the time one would normally spend cleaning the chapel (let the paid custodian handle this out of the vast resources of the church) and instead go to the hospital and read to children dying of cancer. We all live busy lives. If we are going to serve, let’s truly do it and do it in a meaningful way.

  3. I think another comparison to review is that of our current missionary program to the role of a Nazarite. What are the similarities and differences?

    Nazarites were usually called for a limited period of time and took specific vows. I see this similar to our missionaries who also live by “mission rules”
    Nazarites don’t drink strong drink
    Nazarites may have odd diets (honey and locust)- this would be the same for missionaries dining at members homes…

  4. Brett (4): Thanks for the thought you put into your reply. Dunno where you got your stats, but we are part of that “43%” who pursued spiritual needs elsewhere. I still have some good associations with the LDS church, culturally and through family, though. I especially like your suggestions revolving around missional activities (community service and visibility; practicing the gospel of action and service vs. proselytizing; adapting to meet needs; etc.) and consensual relationship in service, callings, and etc., between the laity and the leadership.

  5. Ann – Maybe in the next upgrade.

    Brett – I haven’t heard some of those stats before either. I agree that more non-proselyting community focus, especially service or charity-oriented would be very useful, both in creating more spiritual development for members and in increasing recognition of the church; it is also a great opportunity for inter-faith projects, which I’m starting to see happen where we live. Too often as church members we just have a social at the church but bring items to the church or write a check without really interacting with the recipients of our donations. Again, this is something I see changing in our ward. On the good-better-best scale, maybe that fits in the good or better, but not the best. There is something powerful in the insular ward family that needs to be retained as well.

    I also just worry about what we do when someone is clearly struggling and perhaps creating what some might consider a nuisance due to their struggle. I’d like to see more going out of our way to make sure people feel heard and understood with compassion. I see some of this, but some of the eye rolling or exasperation when people are having difficulty. People in that kind of crisis aren’t always pleasant (can be negative and somewhat disruptive), frankly, but I still hope we can get past our own discomfort to help them through it.

  6. # 4 & 7

    IMO, proselytizing is counter-productive … raising more resistance than creating community relationships. In my ward, the converts that have ‘lasted’ have been predominately spouses / family members of current ward members. Others drop out within weeks.

    I believe that outreach to the community in non-threatening ways would be much more successful … may be not numerically … but in building positive relationships. In my community, there are Protestant churches which have attracted families with children by hosting / sponsoring activities such as Mom’s clubs, preschools, and summer Vacation Bible School for children. These churches are very welcoming … not pushy at all. The majority of participants did not, at least initially attend these Protestant churches … but join because of the positive interactions with members.

    In contrast, my own ward / stake sponsors an annual “Emergency Preparedness” fair that is open to the public but mainly attended by ward / stake members. Who would feel comfortable attending a seemingly ‘secular’ event and then being approached by missionaries ?

    Additionally, non-LDS congregations in the community often have community service committees in which members donate time / resources to efforts with groups such as the local soup kitchen and Habitat for Humanity chapter. The relationships these churches have with community groups are often long standing. I have not seen anything even close to these types of relationships in the LDS community. I think that focusing efforts of LDS youth / seniors toward community service / relationships would foster a lot more positives than the current proselytizing focus.

  7. #8 – Fwiw, everything you mention that other churches so happens in our stake in multiple wards. One ward in particular has amazing service-based relationship with the largest city within its boundaries. When there is a need that the city council feels would overwhelm everyone else, they turn to us.

    The issue with regard to these things, imo, is not that they are not present or discouraged in the Church, but rather that they simply aren’t done in many wards – despite the Brethren constantly encouraging them.

  8. #9–Ray, I’d really like to see some documentation for what you are saying. From my experience, what you describe is incredibly uncommon in the church.

    -Mom’s clubs? Are you talking about enrichment night?
    -Preschools, at an LDS church? Or is this a couple women in the ward getting together and having a preschool group?
    -Summer Vacation Bible school? Is this a primary activity day or a proper kids bible school?

    “When there is a need that the city council feels would overwhelm everyone else, they turn to us.”

    -There is a great tendancy among members of the church to overstate the church’s role in dealing with various things. Some members make it sound like the church is the sole provider of support for major worldwide disasters. The reality is that church involvement is usually incredibly small. I’d be impressed to see anything that backs up your claim.

    “despite the Brethren constantly encouraging them.”

    -The brethren constantly encourage LDS wards to sponsor vacation bible schools? Preschools? I guess I missed the memo.

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